Asha Subramaniam, Senior Director - Go MMT

An ambitious team player and a multifaceted HR professional: Asha Subramaniam’s journey navigating the various segments of HR.

Asha, tell us about your journey, share of challenges how did you overcome them that shaped you to becoming one of the known women leader in HR fraternity, now- Senior Director Human Resource – gommt

When you take full responsibility, you are empowered to achieve
My journey with GO-MMT has traversed through glorious 12 years which has seen many milestones – from the unwinding of PayU and Tradus to the acquisition of redBus and the mega merger with MakeMyTrip. A few of the many Industry firsts and pivotal for a the growth of Travel Tech in this country.
I would say that I have thoroughly imbibed the composite Human Resources role in the real sense of the world over the years by playing a major part in building a great culture and I can pride myself on bringing on board some of the most creative and innovative Tech talent that this domain has ever seen . The camaraderie built within the Team has seen many of our high flyers joining back after their supposed exploration with organisations outside. I’ve tried to build a Team sans the insipid hierarchy and an environment wherein each of our employees sense a feeling of belongingness towards a common goal. To foster a system which has truly enabled the growth of people across the board is testimony  to the fact that most of our senior leaders are home grown – a true feeling of growing with the organisation.
While I have been ambitious, have ensured that I have worked with people in a manner which is most amicable – though the birth of my child did force me to take a step back, but my ability to spring back from that personal role has not deterred my career path – have been able to draw a perfect equilibrium between my personal and organisational goals and the equilibrium has held me in good stead.

Describe what does #SheTakesTheLead means to you?

Accountability instills trust in a team, fosters courage to take appropriate risk, and empowers people to find solutions–even to the most daunting challenges.
Leadership, to me, is not about being a Boss Woman and I have always thrived on gaining control by losing control. Allow me to explain a bit – it is my ability to work with people sans hierarchy which has enabled me to be truly embodied as a Leader and to me this rather fashionable word is about the demonstration of carrying people along which has set the tone. On a personal note, I believe that Women as a genre possess differentiated skillsets naturally. I would say I have utilised the same to be multi faceted and a versatile Leader fostering the key values that I stand for – that of being empathetic and receptive  to people at large.

Conventional wisdom says that women hit a “glass ceiling” as they advance that prevents them from reaching senior leadership positions, the biggest obstacle that women face is the first step up to manager thus more women getting stuck at the entry level? How much do you agree to this why?

Yes , it is true that Women in the Corporate Sector have always had to face more impediments to counter vis-a-vis their male counterparts due to various reasons like relocation, marriage, maternity etc. Things are changing though. Many organizations are helping women. We are the country that has seen top banks like ICICI and Axis perform extremely well with women at the helm, Indira Nooyi went on to head Pepsi globally, Indian Parliament is another example, so many instances of women who have successfully gotten past the “Glass Ceiling”. Personally speaking, I believe I have gotten past most of it, although I do have a bit more to scale and my cheerful disposition does hold me in good stead.

Share your thoughts on how companies can fix  the above scenario creating more Women leaders.

If we all agree that there is a Glass Ceiling and that we need to break it down bit by bit to create meritocracy which has no gender bias, the first step is to simply ensure that there are more women in the upper echelons of organisations. By increasing diversity and having more representation of women in senior management. It’s a proven theory that diverse groups work better, create impact and are more productive. A fair share of promotions and encouragement to achieve and nurture women will surely take it closer to eradicate the gender bias. For instance, some organisations have put in systems in place to ensure that women who go on maternity leave are not penalised for their absence. Their grade, payscale, bonuses etc. are continued as if they’re in active service. This ushers in a gender parity that never existed earlier. The message going out is that the organisation ‘cares’. Drastic times require such drastic measures.

Among all the topics around challenges for women in the workplace, the importance of opportunity fairness is most talked about that start right during hiring, Do you see any change in this practice in last 3 years. If yes, what are those?

There are 2 different levels to look at this. First, have organizations become aware of the need and importance of gender diversity? The answer to that is reasonably Yes. Many organizations are now aware of the need for gender diversity and how women can contribute as much as, if not more than, a man in company’s overall growth.  The second is, are they then becoming equal opportunity organizations? This is a bit tricky. How would organizations view, say, single mothers, who have to stick to tight schedules to fulfil their responsibilities at home? Can the management stay objective by focusing on tasks or milestones achieved rather than just hours put in? The silver lining is that many organizations have started doing that. By ensuring that, not only women, but all staff are measured on contribution/ achievement and not just on hours put in at office. This is bringing about a parity that is helping women manage their career and homes equally. This can only bode good for organizations.

What is the biggest challenge does women face in the workplace after returning from their maternal break?

Oh yes, that is a big challenge. For one, the new mother can barely think of anything but her newborn, and no other can experience that slew of emotions due to separation, especially during the first few days. Expect those regular calls to nannies or grannies (or even daddies) to check how the baby is doing, wanting to rush off immediately after stipulated work hours, requests for Work From Home etc. This is a very tough time for new mothers as it also comes along with challenges of no sleep, frequent visits to hospitals, etc. I would say this is THE moment of vulnerability FOR women, and organizations should recognize it as such.

What organizations should be doing to facilitate more women re-joining after this break. Share some best practices.

Many organizations have started giving motherhood its due. Child care leaves are available upto a year now in some organizations. This helps new mothers with sufficient time to adjust with the physical and emotional requirements of motherhood. Also, the break of their life (can’t think of any other event that is this big for a woman), should not result in breaking their flow. For example, at GO-MMT, we had a lady who was due for promotion but had to go on maternity leave. Turns out she had twins and had to extend the leave. When she returned after 9 months, she was welcomed with the promotion that was due. That approach reflects 2 things. One, GO-MMT recognises and rewards contributions. The other, more significant point is that a break of 9 months did not result in loss of reward for a woman.
Another option would be to help women returning from maternity break by providing training on upskilling themselves. The break from work could mean that the edge or skills they had were no longer effective. Training could be a tool to ease them back into their roles.
And why not set goals? Imagine an organization that declares that, in the next 5 years, 40% of its senior management would be women! How would teams then start looking like? What would happen to appraisal policies?



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